3 Ways to Cultivate Confidence to Ace Your Interviews

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director

Photo Credit: krung99/iStockPhoto

As the leaves start to turn, the days get crisp, and pumpkin products are ubiquitous, that means fall is in the air and so is interview season. For Career Services, this entails a lot of mock interviews to help students prepare and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job as a career advisor. I’m always struck by how amazing Penn students are and the incredible things they are doing. I’ve also noticed a tendency for students to minimize their achievements, almost as if imposter syndrome has swept through campus like a cold or virus. While I’m not advocating for anyone to be arrogant and walk around campus randomly rattling off their resume, there is a proper time and way to discuss your accomplishments. Your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profiles, and interview are the perfect place to articulate what you have achieved so far and where you aspire to go next. In order to shine in these job/internship interviews, you must believe in yourself.

Why is confidence necessary for interview success?

To understand why confidence is a key component of success, let’s reflect on the purpose of the interview. Employers already think that you can do the job and that’s why they are inviting you to an interview; otherwise, they would not waste their time. Resumes lead to interviews and interviews lead to job offers, so by the time you land the interview, you have already crossed some substantial hurdles to get to this point. The interview is the time for you to show the employer why their first instinct about you was right. During my recruiting days, I wanted to confirm that the candidate had both the skills and the motivation to do the job. Basically, I needed the candidate to inspire confidence that they would be able to hit the ground running, make positive contributions to the team, and collaborate well with their colleagues.

How does a lack of confidence manifest itself in an interview?

When discussing upcoming interviews, some students say, “Why did this employer pick me? It must be some mistake?” Statements like this may lead the student to not prepare as thoroughly as they should because they are giving themselves as out and letting fear win. I didn’t think I would get it anyway, so why try? Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For others, it may not be as blatant. When answering interview questions, his/her voice may go up at the end of the story signaling a question rather than a statement. Or, the person may have answers that fade out at the end. Over the years, I’ve had students in mock interviews rattle off a list of reasons why they aren’t qualified for the job so they can get that out of the way and tell me why I should hire them. The reason this strategy backfires is that it leaves the hiring manager with a negative impression from the beginning that’s hard to overcome. On the nonverbal front, fidgeting, a lack of eye contact, a weak handshake, and using filler words (um, like, you know) can also signal a lack of confidence.

Let’s Pretend You are the Recruiter

Imagine a scenario where you are the founder of a club and need to recruit a handful of new members to help you build the group into something that will live on after you graduate. When speaking to potential candidates, would you want to work with the student who can barely look you in the eye and cannot provide examples of past experiences that relate to the position you are filling?

How to get confidence for your interviews

Now that we’ve talked about why you need confidence, let focus on ways to build it in yourself.

1) Take the time to prepare for your interviews.
a. This means thinking about your answers and practicing them aloud repeatedly. No, you are not memorizing answers. Instead, you are smoothing out the delivery. This will go a long way in building your confidence.
b. For tips of answering interview questions, see an older post about an Essential Interview Skill.
c. Check out all the interview prep resources on the Career Services website.
d. Schedule a mock interview with a Career Services adviser.

2) Stop comparing yourself to others.
When surrounded by overachievers, it can be a bit overwhelming and easy to feel like you are falling behind. Don’t forget all the incredible things you did to get admitted to Penn. You are one of those overachievers! No matter how together people look, everyone has their struggles and some are better at hiding in than others. Check out PennFaces, a wonderful site with stories of the ups and downs other students have navigated. You are not alone! Take some of the pressure off by focusing on your own achievements and not those of others.

3) Make a List of your 3-5 greatest achievements
When preparing for an interview or any challenge that seems intimidating, it’s helpful to think of your past wins. Do this not only to prepare answers for your interview questions, but also as a way to visualize yourself being successful. Think about the process that got you there. It’s wonderful to focus on the pride you felt high school graduation day or when you met a goal that had eluded you for a while, but also think of the process of how you got there. Remember the ups and the downs and how you demonstrated an ability to persevere. Resilience is a quality that employers value!

Building confidence for your interview may feel awkward at first and take some practice, but you can do this. If you feel you need extra help in boosting your self-esteem, you have resources on campus that will support you such as the CAPS office, which offers group workshops and individual appointments. Career Services is here to support you through every aspect of your job search whether you are just beginning to explore options or you have an idea and need career advice during the job/internship search process.

Don’t Forget the Thank You Note!

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director

Thank You note in blue envelope.

You often hear about the importance of follow through in the context of sports, whether it’s a golf swing or pitching a ball, but the principle is just as important in the context of a job or internship search. After working hard to impress recruiters and hiring mangers throughout the interview process, you want to keep that momentum going and demonstrate to your potential employer that their initial positive impressions were correct. Sending a thank you note is a key step in the process.

Is it really that important?
Over the years, I have served on several search committees and this is a detail that is expected from candidates. It doesn’t have to be too long, but it should be timely and free from errors. You will stand out for the wrong reasons if you don’t send one.
You may ask why is it such a big deal. First, employers do not have much to go on during the interview. Anyone can say they are good communicators or pay attention to details, but showing you are those things makes all the difference. A thank you note demonstrates your interest in the position and is a sign of respect, reflecting that you value the time of the interviewers. Writing a thank you note is also another opportunity to remind the recruiter or hiring committee why you would be a good fit for that role and company.

Timing is everything!
I’m often asked if it’s acceptable to email a thank you. Yes, emailing a thank you note is fine and allows you to send the note within 24 hours of the interview. If you are one of the last people to interview and the hiring committee will make a decision soon, time is of the essence so emailing a thank you note makes sense. For positions I have really wanted, I have also sent a handwritten note as well. Just be sure to change the message slightly so it’s not the exact same thing. Handwritten notes are not as common these days, so it can help you stand out for the right reasons.

Should I include all the interviewers?
Ideally, yes you would send a thank you to each person asking you questions. During the interview, see if you can get business cards of those who interview you or a list of names and titles of the people you meet if they do not have cards available. The person who scheduled the interview should have this. They may or may not be willing to share this info.
At the very least, email a thank you to the main contact who scheduled the interview with you. I once had a 6-hour interview with 14 people and I sent thank yous to each one. It took a few hours, but I believe it was one of the factors that helped me land the job.

What to write
A thank you note can be brief with only 5-6 sentences. Address the person by their last name (Dr. X or Ms. Y) and then write a line thanking them for taking time from their busy schedule to meet with you about the role. Mention how you enjoyed hearing about the department and learning more about the company. Be sure to include a specific detail you discussed in your interview. Finally, briefly talk about why you are interested in the role and how it aligns with your skills (mention the most relevant). For an example, see http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/writtenmaterials/followup.php.

Tips and Tricks
Write your thank yous in Microsoft Word or Pages first so you can spell check and won’t be too close to the send email button while in the draft phase. Then, you can either cut and paste into emails or hand write the text after you have it perfected.

When writing notes to multiple interviewers, I start with about three versions of the thank you note and rotate these among the interviewers so they are not all starting with the same sentence. Then, add another level of personalization to each by mentioning something you spoke to that particular person about during the interview. After I’m finished with an interview, I will jot a few notes down about what I discussed and that helps with the thank you writing.

For hand written thank yous, I will buy one of those small boxes of thank you notes you can find at the grocery store, a drug store, or any hallmark or office supply place. I like the small notes because there’s less space to write, so 4-6 sentences will fill up the page. Short and sweet!

Good luck! You are one step closer to landing that dream role.

Photo Credit: kemalbas/iStockphoto

The Value of Job Shadowing

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director


The leaves are turning colors, crisp autumn nights are becoming the norm and you can find pumpkin versions of most of your favorite foods. Fall is officially upon us and that means it’s the perfect time to consider an externship as part of your internship/job search strategy. Externships are job shadowing opportunities designed to help students discern how their skills and interests align with professional positions in their career fields of interest.

By participating in a “day in a life” within a work environment, you can gain exposure to an industry, insightful conversation, invaluable advice, and an insider perspective.

Externships are typically job shadowing opportunities that are a half or full-day in duration and may involve the following activities:

  • Conducting informational interviews with professionals in a range of departments and levels
  • Participating in daily operations that provide hands-on exposure to the career field/industry
  • Completing a relevant project if the externship is long enough to accommodate it
  • Attending meetings and presentations
  • Touring the work site

Depending on your school and year, you can participate in one of the structured job shadowing programs through Career Services (for example, the Engineering Externship Program or Discovery Days) or you can create this type of opportunity on your own through networking, which is simply connecting with people. Perhaps you have a friend with a relative working in a field that interests you. You could see if that person could introduce you and begin by scheduling a brief informational interview. Once you’ve established a rapport over time, you could inquire whether any job shadowing opportunities are available. Career Services advisors are here to help you consider both the timing and content of this type of outreach.

The Engineering Externship Program connects returning students with alumni and their colleagues at their workplaces in January, just before spring semester classes begin. The program is open to SEAS sophomores, juniors, and first year master’s students with first priority going to sophomores and then juniors. Externship sites include different types of companies, in locations across the U.S. and overseas. Consult your upcoming weekly newsletters from Career Services for full application details.

Discovery Days is a program which allows College of Arts and Sciences and Wharton sophomores a chance to observe a “day in the life” of professionals in careers of interest to them. Consult your upcoming weekly newsletters from Career Services for full application details. This program takes place in January 2017 prior to spring classes.

Whether it’s through a formal program through Career Services or through your own networking, job shadowing is an excellent way to supplement your research about a career field. By meeting with professionals who do what you hope to, you will have the opportunity to ask questions, gain insights into the challenges they face, and learn from their experience.

How to Write a Cover Letter Recruiters Will Read

Tiffany J. Franklin M.S.Ed, Associate Director


Cover letters are one piece of the job search many job seekers would rather skip. In fact, some will only apply to positions that don’t require them. Omitting the cover letter is a mistake. After all, a cover letter is really a marketing piece that allows you to make a strong case (backed up by examples) for why this company should hire you. Why would you miss out on an opportunity to show a recruiter why you are qualified for a position?

As a former recruiter, I would sometimes receive well over 100 resumes for one job posting. When evaluating which ones to interview, the applications with cover letters stood out because it demonstrated that the candidate took extra time and went a step further than other applicants. Cover letters provided insights into how well the candidate could communicate, their attention to detail, and made a case for why I should hire them. The best cover letters were customized. I gained a clear sense of why the candidate wanted that particular job and company. It was apparent the applicant took the time to think about why they wanted that company and role. Conversely, it’s easy to tell when a candidate uses the same generic letter and applies to 50 jobs.

When writing cover letters, you want to show that everything you have done so far has lead you to this job. It’s up to you to craft a story and pull out all your transferrable skills you gained during your academic and internship journey. Your goal is to inspire confidence in the recruiter that you have the skills and motivation to do this job and you have researched the company culture.

Some writers feel the need to list everything they have ever done and hope the recruiter will find something relevant. That strategy backfires because recruiters don’t have that kind of time to sift through extraneous information. Like the opening arguments in a court case, you need to provide the hiring manager the lens through which to view your experience in the first paragraph of your letter. Explain how your unique combination of education, experience, and skills has qualified you to make contributions to their team. Then, use the middle paragraphs to provide evidentiary support through relevant examples. Be sure that the cover letter is not simply restating your resume. Instead, it’s an opportunity to bring your resume to life and tell your story in a compelling way.

Here are a few tips for how to tackle that first cover letter.

1) At the top, include your address and the date

2) Address the letter to an actual person, not a generic “Dear Hiring Manager.” If you can’t find the contact name, Google “LinkedIn Company Name Recruiter” for ideas. Include contact name, title, company name, and address.

3) Opening Paragraph (I LOVE YOU) – Mention position title, requisition number if listed, why you want the company (see mission statement, About Us page), and a sentence stating why you are qualified to contribute to their team.

4) Middle Paragraphs (YOU LOVE ME) – This is the part where you pick 3-4 examples from your experience and bring your resume to life. Through success stories, you demonstrate your ability to do this job and highlight your transferrable skills. These examples should speak to the key skills mentioned in the job description. That job description may list 50 different qualifiers, but usually these can be grouped into a few primary categories.

5) Closing Paragraph (LET’S TALK) – Restate your interest and summarize key qualifiers, how to reach you (contact info), that you’ll be available for an interview, and thank them for the consideration.

The first letter may take a little longer to complete, but it’s worth the time investment. Writing subsequent letters should be easier as you get used to the format. Be sure to have different letters for each industry and job type to which you apply. From there, customize each one to each company and specific position.

There are great samples at www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/writtenmaterials/coverletters.php. The samples are a helpful guide, but be sure to make the letters your own and that they are not too close to the samples. This is your chance to shine and you need to make it unique to your skills. Proofread your cover letter and have someone else read it before applying to any positions. One grammatical or spelling error will reflect poorly upon you, so editing is a must.

Career Services is here to help! We have walk-ins throughout the week and you can schedule an appointment to have an advisor review your resume and cover letter. www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/appointments





Is Your Resistance to Change Holding You Back?

Tiffany J. Franklin, Associate Director


Change – it’s a simple word with big implications for our daily experience. Throughout our lives change is a constant, yet it’s something that often creates fear and elicits anxiety. Once we navigate the initial discomfort of the adjustment period, we may enjoy our new reality if we keep things in perspective during transitional phase. We have an amazing capacity to adapt to new situations and must stop and reflect upon examples of when we have risen to new challenges in the past.

In an ever changing workforce, our ability to tolerate ambiguity and embrace change is essential for growing as a professional. Throughout our careers we will experience change in many ways – when members join and leave our work teams, getting a new supervisor, transferring projects/teams, moving physical office space, and transitioning to a new computer system. To remain competitive, companies need team members with flexibility and adaptability, who will embrace changes. Google “Business Agility” and you will find countless definitions and articles outlining strategies for companies to innovate and respond to changes within the industry and global market. The employee who gets on board in the early stages is valuable to the team.

There’s also change we initiate as we chase our dreams (applying for a promotion, pursuing new levels of education/training, starting with a new company, or moving to a new city). Perhaps a tipping point in our lives causes us to reevaluate the direction we were headed. For example, when a student takes an internship in a field she thought she wanted since high school and suddenly realizes it’s not what she thought – now what? Hint: come to Career Services and we will help!

Given all these factors, how do you find solid ground as you navigate these constant transitions?

  1. Recognize that a sense of apprehension is natural in the face of change and much of it revolves around the fear of the unknown.
  2. Expect a learning curve/ramp up period and envision yourself a few months down the road when the newness has worn off.
  3. Consider the reason for the change and potential benefits. For example, learning new software could transform the way you work and it’s something you can leverage in your next internship or job search.
  4. Remember there are a wealth of resources to ease your period of adjustment. Career Services is here to help with career exploration and we have in person or phone appointments during the summer as well, in case you have questions about career matters while you’re at your internship. CAPS is a fantastic resource to help with anxiety.
  5. Think back to past periods when you successfully navigated change in the past (first day of kindergarten, high school, college, other major life events).

Whether change is something we initiate or not, perspective is everything. It’s important to seek out the opportunities that accompany periods of change and doing so demonstrates resiliency, a trait highly valued by employers. Instead of viewing change as something to survive, look at it as a new opportunity to thrive.